Discipline that Makes Sense

By Barbara Pierce

Setting limits for our kids is one of the toughest tasks of a parent

Greg Kovacs,
of Upstate Marriage and Family Therapy
in Utica.

As parents, one of our most important jobs is helping our kids learn how to behave—at home, at school, with friends and in public. Kids aren’t born knowing this.

The challenge for parents is to guide their children to become responsible, said parent educator Virginia Pry of Catholic Charities of Oneida/Madison Counties. To teach them self-control.

The way we do that is through limits, setting guidelines for their behavior. When parents set limits, they’re showing their children what to do and what to say, as well as helping them cope with their impulses and learning to tolerate frustration. Limits make children
feel safe.

Setting limits for our kids is one of the toughest tasks of a parent. Think of it as simply teaching your child which behaviors are OK and which aren’t.

Parenting experts Greg Kovacs, owner and operator of Upstate Marriage and Family Therapy in Utica and parent educator offered tips on setting limits:

Help your children learn from their mistakes without criticizing or blaming them, suggested Kovacs. Help them learn from their successes and failures, click here for more info.

Provide choices. Instead of giving orders, set limits,” said Pry. “Give your child a choice within those limits. Having a choice helps your child have some control.”

For example, ask your child “Would you like to do your homework before dinner or after dinner?” said Kovacs. This clearly indicates what needs to be done but acknowledges that the child may have insight into what could work best for them. This gives them the opportunity to think. You’re not giving them the option to do the homework or not do the homework; you’re simply giving them an opportunity to think for themselves.

Tell them what they should do instead of what they shouldn’t do—don’t just say what the wrong thing is. For example, instead of saying “Don’t jump on the couch!” say “The couch is for sitting. Go outside and jump on the grass.”

Give consequences. “Consequences for breaking rules should be given consistently and fairly,” said Kovacs. “The consequences should make sense, should be tied to the behavior. If he throws a toy across the room, it makes sense he is not allowed to play with that toy again for a time. It wouldn’t make sense to send him to his room for an hour. In fact, if he throws a toy and the toy breaks, you don’t have to do anything! The consequence is that the toy is broken, can no longer be used, and won’t be replaced—that’s a natural consequence and a powerful lesson.”

Be consistent so kids can
count on what will happen if they
do something wrong.

When you say there will be a consequence to bad behavior, follow through with it so it’s not an empty threat.

Catch them being good.
Children need to know when they
do something bad—and when they do something good.

Notice good behavior and praise it. Be specific; for example, “Wow, good job putting that toy away!”

Ignoring bad behavior can be an effective way of stopping it. For example, if she keeps dropping her cookies on purpose, she won’t have any more cookies to eat. If she throws and breaks her toy, she can’t play with it. She’ll learn not to drop her cookies and throw her toys.

Listen to your kids, advised Kovacs. Let them express their opinions. Though you have the final say, there’s tremendous value when kids know that their opinions are heard and considered. This helps children to grow the confidence that they can solve problems on their own.

Find alternatives to physical punishment. “Spanking plays no role in raising healthy children,” said Kovacs. ‘While spanking may stop a behavior, the negative effects far outweigh the positive. The same is said of yelling at children—it doesn’t work; it only makes things worse.”

If you’re so angry with your child that you’re ready to explode, take a few moments to calm down before trying to discipline them. Go in another room if needed, count to 10, take deep breaths. Then think about how to handle the problem so you will discipline your children in a way that helps them learn from their mistakes and still feel loved. Their behavior is bad, not themselves.

“Talk to your child when you and your child are calm,” suggested Pry. “Don’t fight or give in. Make sure the consequence fits the misbehavior. Stay consistent and follow through.”

If you’re having trouble controlling your child, call a parenting hotline or join a parenting class where you can learn more about time-outs and nonviolent ways to discipline.

Catholic Charities offers free parenting classes; call 315-724-0120, extension 2528.

For more information on Kovacs and Upstate Marriage and Family, see www.upstatemarriageandfamily.com or call 315-527-7936.